Brian Ostrovsky, a father of two, remembers a time when his children’s babysitter put them in front of a television and went into a guest bedroom to sleep for four hours.
That and other stories of less-than-responsible caregivers are the inspiration for Baby Bit, a device worn by a baby that, using smartphone technology, provides parents with information, such as which caregiver their baby is with. Ostrovsky, the Oregon-based founder of Baby Bit, recently finished a round of crowdfunding for the device, which he says can help parents cope with separation from their children.
And that separation often comes early. About 25 percent of new mothers surveyed by the Department of Labor in 2012 returned to work within two weeks of giving birth, according to data analysis by Abt Associates for a feature on the website In These Times.
Baby Bit collects raw information, said Ostrovsky, a former director of big ideas at Intel. The device, which can be clipped onto clothing, uses sensors and a microphone to monitor temperature, movement and sound among other things. But it gives parents only what they need.
“I don’t think you should be staring at the screen” all the time, he said. “Baby Bit sends notifications about things [parents] care about.”
The application can be configured to send only notifications about specific events, such as handoffs between caregivers or when the baby is sleeping or crying. Sending parents minute-by-minute updates could undermine the caregiver’s role, Ostrovsky said.
Parents can further fine tune the information, for example, to determine how long the baby must cry before the parent receives a notification.
But Jennifer Stuart, a New York-based clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, worries that Baby Bit could give parents an illusion of contact that isn’t there.
“My concern is that it might provide a false sense of assurance. There’s too much loss of human interaction,” she said.
For example, over time parents and caregivers learn to distinguish their baby’s different cries. It’s not feasible to attach a mathematical parameter that determines if there is a problem, she said.
“Sometimes when a cry is really piercing and unusual, a minute is too long. Some crying goes on for 15 minutes, but you think it’s ‘that cry’ again,” said Stuart. “Part of becoming a parent is getting to know this particular baby.”
Stuart did praise the device for its practical purposes, such as the temperature monitor which could be used remotely when a baby is sick.
The company, which is still raising funds for its first production run, recently ended a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, reaching $20,000 of its $50,000 goal. But it has already had one notable investor: automaker Jaguar Land Rover.
Baby Bit has worked with JLR engineers to develop a prototype application that allows the vehicle to recognize if the child has been left in the car alone. Using the heating-ventilation-air conditioning system, the vehicle would regulate its temperature while notifying the parents and caregiver. If no one returns to the car within a reasonable amount of time, the vehicle alerts the authorities with the car’s location.
While Stuart recognizes the practicality of Baby Bit, she added that nothing can replace trust in a caregiver.
“A caregiver must have some opportunity to earn parents’ trust before taking charge of a baby,” she said. “In deciding to leave their baby with a caregiver, parents should feel some sense of assurance that the caregiver is getting to know their baby, and will err on the side of caution — and contact the parents — if in doubt.”